I once had a shirt. Back in the day I ‘owned’ this shirt – denim, with brass buttons – that I loved to wear. Its material had been softened by years of detergent washings and it fitted me to a tee. Of course, back then, I was leaner; tauter too. I figured in that shirt I looked as good as it was possible for me to look. Really, though, I had no fashion sense in the old century – still don’t in this new one. I have no idea who purchased it for me as I rarely buy clothes for myself, but I wore it for years till it came apart at the seams. It felt comfortable. It felt good – it suited me just fine. I could be myself in it.
It was Joanna Trollope’s new offering that set me thinking about that shirt I wore and wore and wore. Her new book has that same comfortable feel about it. You know what to expect and she rarely lets you down. That shirt never let me down. She might write to a type of formula but it works. When she departs from it – well, she sort of comes apart at the seams too. With ‘Balancing Act’ she’s on song.
It is a novel of generational change – something those of us of the baby-boomer years know something of. As we hand over to X, Y and even Z, we have to find a new way forward for ourselves. Sometimes in doing so we may come a cropper, but it can be exciting too.
But that is not what Susie Moran is all about – handing it over. She is so blinkered she cannot see that the world she so once had a handle on has now changed markedly – what worked in the past is so passé in the new ways of doing life stuff. Yes, she’s extremely successful, her pottery business is the bee’s knees and still popular with the public – so if it ain’t broke…. She was deserted as a child by a mother and father who ran away to Africa rather than raise her, but she single-handedly took over the family business. This she re-energised and became quite the career woman, despite finding the time to produce, but not raise herself, three daughters. This she left to her laid-back, jobbing-musician hubby, Jasper.
The daughters have now all grown up and are involved in the business. Cara and her partner Daniel run the financial side and are constantly on the look out to change the way it’s all done – arousing Susie’s intractability. Ashley, married to relief teacher Leo, is involved on the marketing side and is struggling with the work/home balance. The youngest, Grace, is into design and is struggling with a prat of a boyfriend in the self-centred Jeff. They, in the past, have all deferred to Susie when it comes to the crunch, but the worm is about to turn. They are tiring quickly of the ‘balancing act’ – they want to break free. It only needs a trigger.
It comes when an old man returns to the fold and he’s most unwelcome – Susie’s long lost eighty-plus father, Morris.
Trollope, as always, is entirely at home with these sort of events as she charts the various protagonists’ courses to the ultimate confrontation and denouement. It’s all so effortless for her and she takes us, her readers, along for an enjoyable ride, turning the pages eagerly till we discover how it all pans out for the Morans.
As long as she sticks to what she knows, Trollope will never set the literary world on fire. But, on the other hand, it is important to also keep one’s legion of loyal fans buying your next product – and largely she does. There’s no pyrotechnics with her narratives – it’s just good writing that sits comfortably, that feels just right. It’s writing that suits me just fine – the same as that old blue denim shirt of mine.
Ms Trollope’s website = http://www.joannatrollope.com/